Rutgers closes spring amid new expectations
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers isn't ready to pat itself on the back too much for its record spring game attendance, but the Scarlet Knights will take it as a sign of things to come.
The turnout didn't approach the gaudy numbers of some other schools (see: Alabama, Ohio State), but a record 11,079 people did show up at Rutgers' spring game to watch a team coming off an 11-2 season its first bowl victory in school history.
"It's a sign that things are going in the right direction," coach Greg Schiano said. "Hopefully we can have bigger and bigger crowds as the program continues to grow."
The crowd saw an offense that moved the ball despite the absence of star running back Ray Rice. The 2007 Heisman Trophy contender had surgery this week to remove a bone chip from his ankle. He is expected to recover in the four to six weeks.
The offense was shorthanded, but so was the defense. Projected starting linemen Eric Foster (shoulder), Jamaal Westerman (shoulder) and George Johnson (back) missed the game. All are expected to be back for the fall.
Despite being limited by injury, the offense - most notably the quarterbacks - ended the spring on a high note.
Second-year starter Mike Teel, operating the first-team offense against the first-team defense, capped his spring with a 13-for-21 performance. His 137 passing yards all came in the first half. His primary target was sophomore receiver Kenny Britt, who had five catches for 73 yards.
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But the star of the day was backup quarterback Jabu Lovelace, who led the second-team offense in the first half and the first team in the second half.
In all, Lovelace led four scoring drives - two for touchdowns and two that ended with Jeremy Ito field goals.
Lovelace also had the game's best highlight - a 54-yard touchdown run on a designed keeper.
"He ran right through the angle of the safety. That shows you a little bit of his athleticism and speed," Schiano said. "I think everybody is much more comfortable with Jabu."
Lovelace finished the day with a total 11 carries for 88 yards. He also completed eight of 15 passes for 102 yards.
Without Rice, Rutgers was uncharacteristically focused on the pass. The game featured 47 passes and 41 runs. Along the way, Rutgers' secondary - which returns three starters - showed why it is the strength of the defense.
Safety Courtney Greene had seven tackles and delivered a couple of hard hits. Cornerback Jason McCourty had four tackles and two pass breakups, one in the end zone when working against Britt.
"We make each other better," Greene said. "We get better every day because (the offense) has top athletes. We're getting better beating up on each other"
Noteworthy: Reserve quarterback Domenic Natale, who sat out last year after transferring from Michigan State, will miss next season following elbow surgery. Natale had surgery Friday after being bothered by a nagging elbow injury all spring. … Other than Natale, the most serious injury of the spring was the broken leg to Ryan D'Imperio, who had made a push to start at middle linebacker. His return in the fall is questionable. "Ryan D'Imperio is going to be the question mark," Schiano said. "I wouldn't put anything past him. He is the most positive young man I've been around for a long time."
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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